NCJF Film Festival Is a Family Affair

Lisa and her mother Sharon Rivo run the National Center for Jewish Film.
Shelley A. Sackett
Lisa and her mother Sharon Rivo run the National Center for Jewish Film.

By Shelley A. Sackett

Published April 16, 2015, issue of April 16, 2015.

Sharon Pucker Rivo and Lisa Rivo, the dynamic mother/daughter duo at the helm of The National Center for Jewish Film (NCJF), will celebrate Mother’s Day this year the same way they did last year — working. The NCJF 18th annual film festival runs from April 30 through May 15, and the two will be the featured guest speakers at the Boston premiere of NCJF’s newly restored 1931 comedy, “His Wife’s Lover” (USA 1931). The festival’s Mother’s Day programming continues with the premiere of the documentary “The Outrageous Sophie Tucker” with filmmakers Sue and Lloyd Ecker. Tucker was known as “The Last of the Red Hot Mamas.”

“We’re making this a habit, where we have the festival on Mother’s Day,” said Lisa, who is NCJF co-director. Part of the timing is the nature of the calendar and part is the excuse to have programming that is a fun way to celebrate the day. “People can come and spend part of the day with us and bring their mothers or think about their mothers. Plus, it’s the one way Sharon and I can be together on Mother’s Day,” she added.

Sharon, who is NCJF executive director, co-founded the center in 1976 with Miriam Krant as an independent, nonprofit motion picture archive dedicated to preserving the legacy of Jewish film. Its snug office on the Brandeis University campus is the headquarters of the archive, which owns a collection of 15,000 reels of feature films, documentaries, fiction and non-fiction shorts, as well as many cans of home movies dating from 1903 to the present. It is the largest collection outside Israel. Lisa joined the Center in 2006 when Krant passed away. The Rivos are the only mother/daughter archive team in the film industry.

The widely respected annual festival features a slate of new, contemporary international films and restored cinema classics. Screenings take place at the West Newton Cinema, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Kendall Square Cinema in Cambridge.

“The festival is an outgrowth of the Center’s work. We’re an archive, a distributor, we’re curators, we do exhibitions and we work with filmmakers,” Lisa explained. Several of the films are New England premieres and many include a post-screening discussion with the filmmakers.

The Rivos also make a point of trying to find the local angles in the films they select. For example, the Brandeis University library houses 100 of the over 400 scrapbooks that Sophie Tucker kept over her life. Susan and Lloyd Ecker, producers of “The Outrageous Sophie Tucker,” spent a great deal of time at Brandeis poring over these special collections.

On a more serious note, Lisa mentioned “Forbidden Films: The Hidden Legacy Of Nazi Film” (Germany 2014) as referable to the Center’s role as the sole official archive repository for Nazi propaganda films in the U.S., a designation the Center negotiated in the 1980s. There are 35mm copies of a number of anti-Semitic films in the Center’s archives. They are kept off site in a special film storage facility where “they are safe and sound and will be available as long as the film is in good shape, which should be over 100 years,” according to Lisa.

“Forbidden Films” includes clips from many of these rarely seen films that were made by the Nazis as part of their propaganda during WWII. After the screening, Ann Millin, a historian with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and Thomas Doherty, author of “Hollywood and Hitler,” will join the Rivos for a conversation about how these films should be dealt with today.

The festival also showcases the work of filmmakers whose work the Center distributes. “We have deep relationships with these filmmakers and we want to introduce their new films. It’s part of the services of being an exhibitor and curator,” Lisa said, and part of what she sees as the unique contribution the Center makes to the Boston community.

“It’s the furthering of the conversation and the depth of experience that we have in collecting, aggregating, thinking about and creating context around films referable to Jews. The idea is to show the newest films that we think should be shown in Boston,” Lisa said.

Visit Please see the brochure in today’s Journal for full schedule.

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